Sunday 15 September 2019

Jane Shilling: 'Babies need blissfully basic comforts... just like the PM'

My baby son used to wake at 2am sharp, and I would pace the floor with him, singing every song I knew, from ‘Frère Jacques’ to ‘Me and Bobby McGee’. Stock Image
My baby son used to wake at 2am sharp, and I would pace the floor with him, singing every song I knew, from ‘Frère Jacques’ to ‘Me and Bobby McGee’. Stock Image

Jane Shilling

Having confidently volunteered to babysit my partner's year-old granddaughter the other evening, I realised that I had no idea what to do in the event of inconsolable night-time crying. It is a quarter of a century since I was left in sole charge of a baby - and he was mine, so if I got it wrong, no one would know but him and me.

Back in the 1990s, my son had no sleep technology more sophisticated than a cot-mounted carousel of stuffed animals that played a tinkly version of 'Pachelbel's Canon'.

The granddaughter has a white noise machine that emits a sound of sloshing waves which is apparently as soporific as lettuce, or the finer details of Brexit. "But what if she wakes up?" I asked. "She won't," said her mother. "But if she does, you put a hand on her back and sing 'Frère Jacques'."

Here I am on firmer ground. My baby son used to wake at 2am sharp, and I would pace the floor with him, singing every song I knew, from 'Frère Jacques' to 'Me and Bobby McGee'. Not that it did me any good in later life: these days I get the side eye if I so much as warble 'Hark the Herald' à mi-voix.

It turns out that I had the right idea: according to research published in the journal 'Psychology of Music', singing to very young patients at Great Ormond Street Hospital significantly reduced their heart rate, anxiety and pain perception. So it is a shame that lullabies have fallen out of favour with new parents, only a third of whom apparently sing to their babies.

One of the joys of Advent is the moving, centuries-old collection of carols framed as lullabies sung by the Virgin to the Christ-child: simple, tender songs to lull him to sleep amid the cacophony of oxen, shepherd's pipes, angelic choirs and the polyglot flurry of magi and their retinues.

And if, as I often found, the child wakes as soon as the singing stops, the immortal Sellar and Yeatman, of '1066 and All That' fame, composed a helpful Psycho-Lullabye, designed to soothe the infant and vent the parent's feelings at the same time: "Hush-a-bye baby/(Hush quite a lot)/Bad babies get rabies/(And have to be shot)..."

Talking of things that provide comfort, who knew? Theresa May's indulgence of choice, is peanut butter.

It is an arresting image: the UK prime minister, teaspoon in hand, eating peanut butter from the jar. Which is, according to an interview, how she recovers from a hard day's Brexit-wrangling. As indulgences go, it is mildly less transgressive than her previous admission to capering through a cereal crop in her reckless youth.

And for a woman for whom cuddly has never quite seemed the mot juste, it evokes endearing ursine echoes of Paddington and Winnie the Pooh's sticky fondness for marmalade and honey consumed straight from the paw.

Still, when it comes to relatable comfort eating, there is some way to go before Mrs May matches Bridget Jones's lachrymose devouring of an entire tub of ice cream (behaviour that exists, I am fairly sure, nowhere outside chickflicks).

As you might expect, there is an undercurrent of good sense even in the prime minister's minor comestible venalities. Not only is peanut butter high in trace minerals and virtuous fats, it is for her, as a diabetic, a blissfully basic alternative to her other current culinary passion: Yotam Ottolenghi's perversely titled cookbook, 'Simple'.

Telegraph.co.uk

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